2010 Player Profile: Ronald Belisario, International Man Of Mystery

Ronald Belisario seemed to come out of nowhere to win a bullpen job for the 2009 Los Angeles Dodgers, but in fact he did come from somewhere, namely the nation of Venezuela, and the organizations of the Florida Marlins and the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Florida signed Belisario at the age of 16 and he toiled in their minor league system, reaching the AA level and being placed onto their 40-man roster by the end of the 2004 season.  Unfortunately, the foe of pitchers world-wide, a torn ulnar colateral ligament, paid Belisario a visit, resulting in Tommy John surgery and a lost 2005 season.

Compounding injury with unspecified poor judgment, Belisario also did not pitch in 2006 because the Marlins suspended him for the season and ultimately released him at the end of the year.  Pittsburgh signed him and he pitched mostly in Double-A for the Pirates over two seasons, but apparently unimpressed with a WHIP of about 1.5, K/9 of 6.28, and a BB/9 of 4.30 at that level, the Pirates also released Belisario.  After all, how long do you stick with an unimpressive relief pitcher who managed to get suspended while he should be trying to finish his Tommy John rehab?

That off-season, Belisario played winter ball in his native Venezuela, and his manager just happened to be Carlos Subera, who had been named manager of the Dodgers’ Inland Empire high-A minor league affiliate for the upcoming 2009 season.  On a recommendation from Subera and scout Ron Rizzi, the Dodgers signed Belisario to a minor-league deal.

Belisario was a late arrival to spring training due to issues with obtaining his visa, and was assigned to minor league camp before he could throw a single pitch in front of the Joe Torre's staff.  When he impressed the minor-league coaching staff with good movement and a "heavy" fastball, he was brought to the major league camp at the very end of camp, and won an opening day roster spot with his performance in the last exhibition games.

Joe Torre had this to say about Belisario pitching against the Angels, "I watched Chone Figgins swing and miss twice. That doesn’t happen very much when he’s looking for fastballs to hit. That was impressive — what that means is there’s late life on the fastball."

Belisario had a very successful rookie season as a middle reliever with the Dodgers, throwing 70 2/3 innings and posting a 2.04 ERA (194 ERA+), with a 8.2 K/9 ratio to accompany a fine 56% ground-ball percentage that allowed him to hold opposing batters to a line of.201 / .294 / .286 / .580.  He did have one stay on the 15-day disabled list during the season with a sore elbow, but returned without seeming to have suffered any longer term ill effects, remaining a key component of a strong Dodger bullpen.  At different times during the season, he filled the role of 6th inning man, 7th inning man, and setup man.

His rookie season was also marred with an arrest in Pasadena in the early morning hours of June 27, 2009 for driving under the influence.  From the arrest report:

On 6-27-2009 Ronald Belisario was stopped on Fair Oaks Ave just south of Colorado Blvd in Pasadena for talking on his cell phone while driving. An investigation was conducted and Belisario was 0227 hours for suspicion of D.U.I. Belisario was then transported to Pasadena P.D. and booked without further incident.

The suspension earlier in Belisario's career, his visa problems last spring, the DUI arrest, and now his missing three appointments at the American embassy in Caracas have to call into question his make up.  He may be the proverbial million-dollar arm with a ten-cent head.  UPDATE: Ignacio Serrano of ESPN Deportes reports that Belisario denies missing any appointments and that the holdup is entirely due to the DUI.

Contract Status:

If Belisario remains successful enough to stay at the major-league level for two more full seasons, he would become eligible for arbitration after the 2011 season.  For the 2010 season, the Dodgers can simply renew his contract, which they will likely do at a figure in the low $400,000s.  As his inability to report to camp drags on, one has to wonder if by the time he does report, he may be facing extended spring training and perhaps a minor-league option to get game-ready before he gets back into the majors.  If that all drags on long enough, perhaps into mid-May or later, he may not qualify for "Super-two" status and may make arbitration eligibility a year later, effectively postponing himself a potential seven-digit salary, with the caveat that his arm actually holds up that long.

2010 Outlook:

Assuming Belisario makes it to camp sometime soon and doesn't blow out his arm trying to get into game shape, he would seem to be in line to share the 7th inning duties with Hong-Chih Kuo.  You can view complete statistical reports on Belisario at baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com.

Year Age IP BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP FIP x-FIP tRA ERA+
2009- MLB 26 70.2 3.69 8.15 2.04 1.15 3.51 3.47 3.80 194
2010 Projections - Age 27 Season
Bill James 69 4.17 7.17 4.04 1.41 4.20
CHONE 60 4.05 7.50 4.35 1.42 4.50
Marcel 60 3.60 7.65 3.60 1.28 3.93
Baseball HQ 65 4.15 7.06 3.88 1.48

The various projection systems all seem to agree to varying degrees that Belisario's performance will take a downturn in 2010.  I suppose it will be difficult to replicate the stellar rookie season he had.  Because his pitches have such tremendous movement, it is also difficult to believe he will improve on his walk rates.  There is also some risk that a guy who's already had Tommy John surgery, spent time on the DL last year with a sore elbow, and is very late reporting to spring training, will do something aggravating to his arm, perhaps rushing to get ready for the season.  (On the other hand, Serrano also reported that "Ronald Belisario said he's in good shape. He said he'll need two bullpen sessions in order to be ready to pitch in a real game.")  I'm going to predict that all these factors will have something to do with limiting the time Belisario actually gets to pitch for the Dodgers:  3.76 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 45 IP in 2010.

What are your predictions for Ronald Belisario (ERA / WHIP / IP)?

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